Tau My Relatives
Our Taino ancestors were attentive sky watchers and made accurate observations of the movements of heavenly bodies. These movements almost always express themselves in the form of cycles and the assessment of these cycles was as important to the Caribbean islanders as it was to their contemporaries living in the high Maya civilization near-by. One of the most important cycles observed by the astronomers of the Central American and Caribbean civilizations is the yearly cycle of the sun. To the ancient Tainos the sun itself and its cyclical movements accross the sky were associated with Yoka Hu, the male spirit of the yuca plant. The Puerto Rican scholar Eugenio Fernandez Mendez makes these comments on page 33 of his book Art and mythology of the Taino Indians of the Greater West Indies
"The sun is the most intense of the fires which burn in the heavens and no one can look at it. In conformity with this belief and in the last analysis, Yocahu is identified with Boinael, the sun."
"...the Tainian stone idols suggest it----- that the bird-like incarnations of...boinael, suggest the stages of the sun's progress through the heavens: the humming bird, the eagle, the turkey (guanajo), [and the owl] have the same associations as found in Mesoamerica, and there too, possibly represent the various positions of the sun."
We in the Caney Circle no longer identify the sun with the name "Boinael" as Fernandez-Mendez did in his book but we still agree with him that the cycles of the sun during the year played a very important role in ancient Taino tradition.
ancient Cuban wooden representation of YokaHu as a living deity
Most experts agree that the ancient Taino recognized four major positions occupied by the sun in the sky during its annual cycle. These positions coincide with the four seasons of the year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Although the environmental changes that take place during these seasons do not manifest themselves as dramatically in the tropics as they do in temperate regions, the sun itself does assume very distinct and recognizable positions in the sky during each one of them.
The positions of the sun in the sky during the four seasons appears to have been of enough interest to the Taino for them to have gone through the trouble of aligning a number of important stone monuments so that they could indicate and predict those positions. The independent researcher Dr. Angel Rodriguez Alvarez suggests in his 2001 publication "Prehistoric Astronomy in Puerto Rico, Caguana Ceremonial Center: A ..." that the stone arrangements at Caguana Ceremonial Center in the highlands of central Boriken were positioned so that they would indicate the location of the sun during the important points of the solar cycle.
In the Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle we recognize this cycle as a powerful spiritual element of our belief system. In it we recognize the annual life cycle of Yoka Hu himself. Yoka Hu is a manifestation of Life and Energy. In his role as the soul of the yuca plant and its resultant food product, cassava, he manifests a life cycle very much like that of a plant (see Ricardo Alegria An Introduction to Taino Culture and History 1997 Monticelli Press page 23 "..Yocahu was a supreme spirit associated with the growth of cassava"). He is born (he sprouts), he reaches maturity, then is harvested and when that happens he must die. In death this eternal being returns to the soil, the earth is his mother, Ata Bey. As in the case of the annual plant this return to the earth constitutes a re-planting. When re-planted, this plant spirit develops in the soil and then finally completes the cycle by sprouting anew and starting all over again.
Yoka Hu's life cycle mirrors the life cycle of a human being. In sprouting from the depths of Mother Earth he can be said to be "born" of her womb like a baby. When he reaches full maturity he can be said to have achieved "manhood". As he wanes he can be said to be aging and growing old. Finally when he is harvested he can be said to die and his soul can be considered to be on its way back to the womb from which it originally sprang. The return to the earth as a re-planted entity is the ultimate return to the maternal uterus, where his soul is re-conceived and where he begins to gestate. The cycle is completed when the fully developed fetus is born and begins the cycle all over again.
In the Caney Circle we associate each one of these important moments in the life-cycle of our supreme plant spirit with a particular position of the sun during its annual cycle. To understand this concept one must be totally acquainted with the four specific positions of the sun as it goes through its cycle in the caribbean region. This is a fundamental concept in the study of astronomy.
The fact that the earth is tilted on its axis causes the variations of solar appearances that we call the "seasons". At Winter Solstice the region of the Caribbean is tilted away from the sun in such a way that the path marked accross the sky by this heavenly body during the course of a single day appears to tilt significantly toward the South.
At this time of the year we in the Caney Spiritual Circle understand that this is the time when the soul of Yoka Hu has completed its journey of Death and has become reconceived within the womb of his mother Ata Bey.
A few months later we consider that the process of gestation comes to completion. At this time of the year, which is called Spring Equinox, the arch that the sun marks across the sky in a single day from East to West tilts much less acutely toward the South, and in fact is very close to crossing the point in the center of the sky straight up overhead known as the "zenith".
We in the Caney Circle perceive that Yoka Hu is born at that time, along with the sprouting of the spring plants.
Soon after that, later in the spring there is a day when the path of the sun across the sky crosses right through the Zenith. This is called "Zenith Passage"
After the Zenith passage the sun's path reaches the point in the sky that indicates the most extreme inclination toward the North. This happens to be the longest day of the year. It is called "Summer Solstice'.
After Summer Solstice the arching path that the sun marks in the sky begins to tilt back toward the south, eventually bringing it again right through the zenith.
This means that in the course of a year there are actually two zenith passages, one in Spring and one in Summer.
After the second Zenith Passage the tilt of the sun's path across the sky continues to lean further and further toward the South until it reaches the same position it held at Spring Equinox. This moment in the solar year is called Autumn (fall) Equinox and in Caney spiritual tradition we interpret it as being the moment of Yoka Hu's Death. This takes place during the hurricane season and also the time of harvest of several important plant foods. It is perceived as a time when there is loss of life (harvested plant and deaths from hurricanes). At this time of Death the soul of Yoka Hu is perceived as beginning its journey to the womb of his mother Ata Bey. We associate the womb of Ata Bey with Coai Bai the realm of the Dead.
Three months after Autumn Equinox the soul of Yoka Hu finally completes its journey to the Realm of Coai Bai and becomes re-conceived in the womb of his mother Ata Bey. This completes his cycle and right there in the Winter Solstice seclusion he prepares for a new re-birth three months later at Spring Equinox.
We call this cycle the Sun Path.
We associate the four seasons with the four cardinal directions of the Medicine Wheel.
South is associated with Spring because that is the direction from which the sun appears to travel in the Springtime.
East is associated with Summer because it is the place from which the sun rises each day and can be identified with the brightness of sunlight and solar heat at Summer Solstice.
West is associated with Autumn because the west is the place where the sun sets, leaves humans in the darkness of the night and reminds us of the fact that at Autumnal Equinox the nights grow longer and the days grow shorter. It is a time of Death and darkness.
North is the Winter Solstice, the time of Yoka Hu's re-conception with its promise of a new re-birth because the north is the place where the cool winds of winter come from in the Winter time.
These are the four cardinal points in the Sacred Wheel
As we mentioned above, Fernandez Mendez indicates that there is a relationship between the four sacred birds and the four positions of the sun. We also associate them with the four cardinal directions around the Sacred Wheel.
At Winter Solstice we in the Caney Indigenous Spiritual Circle celebrate the arrival of Lord Yoka Hu's soul at the place of his mother's womb. We use an image of Yoka Hu that represents him as a lifeless entity. It is an image of Death. The image is a cemi that depicts his body as a fleshless bony form upon which only the vertebra of the spine, the ribs and the bones of the arms and legs are visible. He is depicted headless, with his head between his arms.
We tie this image to an oval sculpture that represents the ovoid-shaped uterus of Ata Bey. In doing this we recognize that Yoka Hu has been re-conceived in the uterus of his divine mother and will stay attached to that uterus until Spring.
This action of tying the three-pointed cemi image of Yoka Hu to the stone hoop is suggested by Jesse Walter Fewkes(1970, 167,170-172), and other scholars, and is mentioned by Jeffrey B. Walker in Taino Stone Collars, Elbow Stones, and Three-Pointers pages 87 and 88 "... three-pointers---either sculpted or simply incised--- were combined with stone collars to form one unified object...The three-pointer would have been tied to the frame of the undecorated panel."
Miguel Sobaoko Koromo Sague